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“Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind singing in your veins.” —John Welwood

The serving plates and bowls had been washed and tucked away late into the night—hidden in narrow cabinets and sliding drawers until Thanksgiving—the list of what to buy to feed everyone slipped into the recycling bin.

The stillness of the house that next early-morning had the feeling of Summer drawing-open the curtains and strolling into the backyard for a long and undisturbed rest in the shade—The New Yorker magazine tucked under her arm for a leisurely read.

Jonah and Adrian meandered down the stairs in the late morning like droopy, rag-dolls with soiled, grass-stained feet, the glow of sparklers lingering still within their midst.

Slowly, we gathered up library books scattered about the house—some in a pile on a bench by the bookshelf, others in a spring-green shopping bag hanging by the back door.

I felt relieved and like my shoulders hung a little softer for having upheld a family tradition once again—knowing my children rely on the event for marking time, for understanding their unique place in the world.

The trunk of my car was filled with recycling and returnable cans and bottles. I planned to drop off the cardboard boxes and papers but to wait on cashing in our returns.

I thought we were all feeling too-lazy to navigate the somewhat messy return process. I imagined we would avoid the crowd of last night’s revelers who might be doing the same.

Eager for some pocket-change, Jonah encouraged the exchange.

When we arrived at the grocery store the air was thick and heavy with heat—intensified by the asphalt parking lot. I soaked in the warmth on my bare, freckled arms and helped each boy to a black, plastic bag from the trunk—Jonah got the heavier one.

The boys walked slightly ahead of me knowing where the machines were. I captured the image of them in my mind—each with their load slung over their shoulder—Adrian in his favorite grey sports shorts with the florescent stripe on the side and his pale-yellow shirt, Jonah tossing his long hair back with the flip of his head.

Inside, their arms disappeared fully into the damp bags—bending to the side, dipping-in and grabbing a can or bottle and then reaching up to slide it onto the conveyor belt of the machine located just above their heads.

Sometimes the receptacles would get spun around and around and then rejected only to be pushed-in once again by the persistence of four small, but eager, hands.

A couple of tall men with a cart full of cans waited behind us as we navigated the machines. I imagined they were father and son.

Adrian finished first—a small collection of liquid pooling like a narrow balloon at the bottom of his bag. With the more-full load, Jonah was becoming weary of the dampness on his arm and asked me to finish for him.

I reached in—trying to pick up my pace—cognizant of the others in line. I quickly understood his discomfort as I took over, the stench of empty bottles palpable. Before I could get to the last can, Jonah and Adrian had pushed the finish button to collect our receipts.

I took the remaining can and popped it into the shopping cart behind us, thanking the men for their patience.

After collecting our money—just shy of three dollars—we made our way to the bathroom to the right of the customer service counter to clean the sticky layer off of our arms.

Jonah went into the men’s room and I walked further down the hallway to the women’s room—Adrian shuffled between us in the two places.

I rubbed Pepto Bismol-pink soap into my palms and all the way up my right arm and then rinsed it off with cool water, drying with a paper towel.

When I came out, Jonah and Adrian were standing wide-eyed in front of a collection of colorful gumball and candy machines and turned to me with their puppy-dog eyes.

Can we use our money to get something?

 I smiled and gave them the bad news as gently as I could, ushering them back down the hallway and out into the penetrating sun.

Contentment hung between us like a sundress on a clothesline in a cool breeze as we climbed back into the car.

I thought about the time my sisters and I had gotten gumballs at a grocery story as children—no concern about food dyes then, blue 1 or red 40.

My younger sister was about four-years-old and we had all just piled into the car after shopping—large wads of gum occupying our entire mouths, exercising the strength of our jaws with their stale stiffness.

All of a sudden—having forgotten about the purchase from a machine with a dime and the twist of a metal handle—my mother looked into the rearview mirror catching a glimpse of my little sister’s lips, painted a purpley-blue from the dye of the gum.

She gasped at the site—not making the connection with the gum—and became panicked thinking my sister was turning blue from some sort of lack of oxygen.

I don’t remember how she—how we all—realized it was the gum and not asphyxiation causing the transformation in my sister’s appearance.

It put a scare into us all thinking she couldn’t breathe—we can laugh about it now.

At the library we piled up a little cart with loads of books—we’ve yet to be limited by the staff despite our voracious desire for words. I chose a few picture-books that interested me and got comfortable in a soft, burgundy chair—waiting for my boys to join me.

I thought about kicking off my flip-flops, then didn’t.

One of the books described the transformation of a mother’s closeness with her children over time.

It reminded me of this idea I have of my heart being tied snuggly to the hearts of my children—a big crimson-red ball of yarn between us—and how, as they grow, the fiber unwinds creating greater and greater distances yet keeping us bound together.

I imagine a time when the cord might drape between mountain ranges and across continents— laid out across vast landscapes, only some of them literal.

I am counting on a tight weave for a durability that will weather the distances of a lifetime.

Adrian’s favorite of the stories I selected was the one with the wild illustrations of a lion with big expressions trying to teach some other animals about presence. It was the turtle who understood best in the end—isn’t it always the slower-paced among us who reveal themselves as masters?

We added it to our collection to bring home.

Suddenly we were all famished. I was praying that the taco truck would be parked by the big field and it was.

The car was so hot, the boys insisted I roll down all of the windows and start the air conditioner before getting in. We were sweaty still when we found a parking spot right next to the favorite food truck—the line short enough.

We stood on the sidewalk and I layered Jonah up with the bag of library books and Adrian with our orange, picnic blanket that hangs from a strap. I gave them a twenty-dollar bill and told them to go for the lemonade from the stand down the street and then to find a place in the shade to spread the blanket out while I got our lunch.

In line, I watched as they strolled down the sidewalk together—each weighted down with the things I had given them, the red-line dangling loosely between us.

I have been insisting they carry more and more.

They got to the stand, looked-up at the menu-board, exchanged a few words between them and then Jonah came walking briskly back toward me until he was close enough where he could shout-to-me and I could hear him.

Can we get a root-beer float instead?

No!

Jonah dashed back to Adrian and placed their order while Adrian bounced the blanket against his little legs.

Loaded up with drinks, they managed to spread the blanket next to a tall pine tree on the edge of the field just a few feet from where I was still waiting. I was surprised they had chosen a spot so near—the entire field peppered with shade.

I could see their sneakers on the blanket poking out from the side of the truck and breathed easier knowing they were within my reach.

After lunch I laid back on the blanket—propping myself up on my bag—and looked up and across the lawn at a giant oak tree.

It had thin and spindly branches for arms—giving it the quality of a wise elder with a cane—and boasted copious, flourishing moss-green leaves.

The heat hovered heavy and still all around us—like truth spoken quietly in a loud room.

A very-slight fluttering of the leaves in the distance caught my attention and I felt a thin ribbon of air graze my skin.

It seemed unlikely that the air-pressure would build from there but then I noticed a mounting energy and thought about the nature of this invisible force endlessly reflecting the relationship between conflicting pressures within our atmosphere.

One of the large, wider branches with its dancing leaves began to flap slowly and powerfully like an eagle’s wing pumping air in slow motion—the breeze mounting.

I pointed out the contrast between movement and the stillness and coaxed Jonah and Adrian to lie back onto the blanket with me so that they might experience the tiny hairs raising up upon their own skin.

Like conductors—or sport’s announcers—we pointed out what we saw and felt as the leaves began to flutter—just slightly—ushering in a bigger movement and ultimately a welcome relief to our sweaty skin.

We waited for it again and again—in all of its subtlety—delivering a gentle breath-to-the-day and landing us on a patch of earth, in a sleepy town, side-by-side.

 

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“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”—Brené Brown

I selected the parks option for a search on the GPS and found a match a few miles away.

With too-little time to travel home and back before camp-pickup I followed a hilly, winding road to a new spot in a neighboring town where many of the homes are surrounded by enormous boulders.

These mammoth rocks have been left alone and integrated into landscaping plans—dense and vibrating with the story of another place and time—likely transported via glacier tens-of-thousands of years ago.

Situated around some of the houses they appear like dinosaurs—curled up for an afternoon nap.

It is so breezy here in this unfamiliar spot.

I’ve gone back into my car for a favorite sweatshirt—worn soft over years —and put on a snug baseball cap to keep my hair from blowing all around.

I’m listening to the steady tick of a sprinkler watering the field beside me—every now and then catching a glimpse of its rounded, liquid arch. The water seems to break off from the end of the stream and shoot forward into a powerful collection of drops—pausing—then raining down onto the grass.

Once in a while the breeze will carry a slight mist my way that I can smell more than I can feel.

It reminds me of running through sprinklers as a child just after the lawn had been mowed—the fresh-cut grass sticking to my bare feet, to my shins.

A large robin digs for a worm down the little hill to my left and then flies off abruptly—startled by a yellow Labrador Retriever with a ball in her mouth running toward me.

A miniscule, florescent-pink spider sprints across my computer screen like he’s late for a flight.

I am often surprised to discover vibrant hues like his—that seem like they belong more in the color-palette of man—manifested in nature.

I try to use a piece of chipped, grey paint from the picnic table to lure the spider off of my laptop so I can get a closer look. He’s moving so fast and keeps avoiding the paint chip but does finally crawl up onto my thumb and quickly begins racing toward my wrist.

I move away from the table out into the sun to try to see him up close—he’s so tiny—but then I have to blow him off of me just before he goes scurrying up my long sleeve, afraid I might lose him beneath my clothing.

We live in such an enchanting world.

It can be so easy to forget and brush by the faces of insects and trees, subway riders and bus drivers, the nurse taking our pulse, the child waiting hopefully at the lemonade stand—our own dear face looking back at us in the mirror.

Don’t let it be said that you are anything but dear.

It can be so easy to let it all pass-us-by while we fret about—you name it.

Let our preoccupation be instead about seeing one another—and ourselves—in the light-of-day, for all that we are.

I say a lot to my children about what they eat or don’t eat—probably more than I should.

It has to do with my own powerful reaction to what I consume.

It has to do with how much I love them and reminds me of the definition of the word sweater as given by the writer Ambrose Bierce, “a garment worn by a child when his mother is feeling chilly.”

Recently I was trying to justify my encouragement of more eating-of-dinner to Jonah and Adrian.

They were in a hurry to get back outside.

I tried to describe to them the relationship between food and mood. That was my initial thought, at least.

I fully recognize the experience of well-being is not that simple for a whole lot of people, myself included at times.

Did you know if you are ever really, really sad you can ask yourself a couple of questions to understand why you might be feeling that way?

They perked right up to what I was beginning to say—It’s mind-boggling to me how sometimes my voice can be to them like that of the Charles Shulz Wah Wah language for adults and other times they seem to devour my words like water absorbed by the thirsty roots of a plant.

This was one of those lucky moments when their attention led me to believe that what I was about to say might somehow soak into their subconscious and be retrieved later in life when they needed it.

I shared that if they were ever really sad they could ask themselves, When was the last time I ate? What did I eat? Was it sugary? Have I had any protein?

Before I could go on, Adrian—my seven-year-old—interrupted me.

Actually, first you should be sure you have had something to drink—drinking is more important than eating. 

Touché.

He was right. Hydration is critical, so we agreed questions about both eating and drinking would be helpful.

Jonah was waiting his turn to speak but I could see he wanted to jump into the conversation.

Together we all quickly went to the question of rest.

Eat. Drink. Sleep.

Have I slept? Have I been getting enough sleep for a few days?

 It was clear to us all that sleeping was an important component in feeling good.

This is where I thought it got interesting.

My first impulse when I posed the question was to point out the connection between how we treat our bodies and how we feel in our emotional state.

Jonah took the inner-reflection to another level and led us into a deeper discussion than I had intended.

He proposed that we ask ourselves, have I been kind?

This sort of blew me away.

Wow. Yes. How we treat others affects our well-being. Have I helped anyone recently?

Next, I began thinking about how exercise contributes to the production of endorphins and well-being when Jonah said we should ask ourselves the question, have I been outside?

We all got excited about our collective need for access to fresh-air, sunshine and natural beauty in order to feel grounded.

Jonah said that he thought of being outside and exercise as the same and then he said, what about asking whether you have been learning anything new?

This was something I hadn’t thought of and agreed contributes to a sense of purpose.

They had taken my one question and run with it.

Suddenly I thought about a practice I had shared with Jonah and Adrian a long time ago that has been an integral part of our daily connection.

I wondered if they would remember as I began hinting, there is one more thing that you can check-in on if you are feeling really, really sad.

Jonah was sitting to my left at the head of the table.

He sat back in his chair—slightly away—thinking.

Adrian was across from me on his knees on his chair—elbows propped up on the table, hands at his chin.

His hazel eyes sparkled searching for the answer—wanting so-much to be first.

They were both on the verge of getting it when Adrian shouted out, hugs!

Yes, if you are feeling really, really sad you should make sure you have had a hug from someone you love!

As the boys ran back out to play—dropping their dinner-dishes loudly into the sink, silverware clanking—I thought about how hard it can be to reach out to others—even those we love—when we are struggling.

I thought about how above all of the things we discussed, this can be the most critical for remembering who we are—maybe especially, for boys and men.

I thought about what it means to have access to all of these things for both children and adults—clean food and water, a present and nurturing family, a safe place to sleep and play.

I hoped that our discussion might somehow be planting seeds that would blossom into my two sons never feeling so alone that they think they have to go-it-alone.

There is a soft, white and blue floral rug on the floor in front of our kitchen sink.

At the baseboard level there is a brown heating vent that can be turned on to boost heat so that on frigid, winter mornings in Maine when I am standing at the sink, the heater will blow a powerful rush of warm air keeping my feet toasty.

When my cat Autumn was in her last days I would sit there on that gentle surface in front of the heater with her in my lap warming us both.

I have eaten food there—like I’m having a little picnic, my back against the vent.

I have called the boys there at times—when their play has made our living room feel more like a gymnasium or boxing ring than a home—so we can have a meeting of the minds on a padded surface.

This morning I asked Adrian for a hug before he left for camp and he came over to me where I was standing on the rug loading dishes into the dishwasher. He rarely hugs me in the typical way and instead wraps his entire body around one of my legs and begins sort-of hanging on me like I’m a tree branch.

This morning was no exception.

I came down onto my knees to be at his level and to be more-steady so he wouldn’t pull me over. We hugged—there on the rug—and he remembered our conversation from before.

The sun has burst forth and hid behind the low-draping clouds again and again since I arrived here in this breezy place.

A flurry of spiders has visited me at the covered picnic table including one who was bright-yellow with long legs and several who were thicker, black and compact—one finding its way to the brim of my hat.

It turned out to be a spidery place.

Before packing up my things, I left it all at the table and walked barefoot across the field—a wide open expanse of space, expanding-the-spaces-in-me.

The ground was lush with mushrooms and clover—the cool damp soil, soaking my feet.

I counted six more robins scattered across the field in two’s, their work made easier by the soft ground. Each time I got near to a pair they would take flight—showing off a burst of burnt-orange feathers tucked between grey.

The clouds were spread out across the pale-blue sky. I tipped my head back and upward taking in the space and the air—damp and fragrant with the sweet smell of summer.

 

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”—J.R.R. Tolkien

There are four, colorful boxes of incense tucked away in the kitchen on a high shelf in the cabinet where I keep the coffee and the spring-green, leaf-shaped plates.

I can just barely reach the basket where I keep them if I go up on tippy-toes and extend my arm so my shoulder rolls forward—grabbing it with the tops of my fingers.

The rectangular containers are labeled with the attributes each particular aroma is meant to invoke—strength, power, balance, devotion.

I’ve been carrying around the basket that contains them for going on twenty years—it has found a purpose in three or four apartments and now—for nine years—in our home in Maine.

I have no recollection how I came upon it—neither time nor place—yet, I know it has been with me forever. It’s remarkable the way the hay-colored fibers have remained tightly wound almost like they are newly woven.

I am most drawn to the lavender box of incense within the basket—still in the old design—and its call for balance.

Yesterday’s moderation in all things is today’s aspiration for living a life weighted equally all around—a balancing scale—one side mostly-effort, the other mostly-ease.

I select the devotion incense most—drawing out a single, thin strand of the biotic material from the powder-blue box, placing it upright in the crimson, ceramic container on the counter’s ledge and connecting a flame with the tip.

I allow the fire to burn for a moment and look-on as it dies out on its own—transforming into a smoky balm—washing over me as I engage in the subtle, inner-practice of acknowledging the unseen.

Choosing devotion, I call to mind—and into my heart—a sense of what it means to co-create a life with a driving force I cannot quantify.

I call to that still space within a loving—a nourishing—energy that at the end-of-the-day I can turn to and whisper, you saw all that, right?

 I don’t know how they decide which scent—which herbs and oils—are attributed to these various ways of being—strong or powerful, balanced or devoted.

I do notice that the single act of calling-to-mind these qualities—of pausing to notice their residence no matter the depth at which they have been buried—is an invitation to embody aspects of the human-spirit—that I, that we all—might otherwise reject or deny.

I hadn’t planned to spend the late-morning and the early-part of the afternoon unraveling a tangled web of yarn.

Jonah and Adrian learned to finger-knit in nursery school and later they each created their own knitting needles as a part of their 1stgrade, handwork class.

They took pride in constructing and sanding the wooden needles, but neither of them love knitting with them—it’s hard for their small hands and especially for their quick-thinking minds.

Adrian likes to keep me abreast of where everyone in his class is on the rows of knitting they have undertaken for their tea cozy or the flute case.

This friend is already on their red! Another student has just begun the green row!

They do adore yarn and have asked me to buy another skein every time we have visited a craft store for several years.

I have exhibited anything but balance in my response.

I have been downright indulgent in the amount of yarn I have purchased for our household given my own low-level, knitting capability.

I am drawn to the meditative stance of creating stiches, however, my technical skills are limited.

My creative path has always relied heavily on intuition and been light on technique—although I do truly value both.

In our bountiful collection of yarn, we have orange and black yarn purchased around Halloween for hanging decorations. There was blue and white yarn added to the pumpkin-color when we ventured to create NY Mets bracelets. We have yarn that is more like the weight of string and changes back and forth between a few colors that look like candy. And there is some really fluffy, higher-quality yarn in the mix that was chosen for its soft texture and the vision that it would make for a lovely scarf that has yet to come to life.

To my surprise, Adrian once requested purple yarn for a rainbow creation he was making—just after he refused to wear this same-colored, soccer shirt because he thought it was too girly.

We have been keeping the yarn in two shopping bags hung in the cabinets in the mudroom beside the yellow, rain overalls.

I pulled them out today with the intention of organizing the contents so that Jonah and Adrian could more readily access the yarn for use this summer in their various creations.

I invited Adrian to join me.

Like most children, his love-language is time-spent-together and I hoped to both fill up his little body with togetherness and also to make some sense of the tangled mess.

Jonah remained curled up—reading on the couch—while Adrian eagerly agreed to join me.

We spread the chromatic chaos across the living room floor and wondered how the yarn had become so-very-tangled.

It appeared as if someone had placed a cake-mixer into the bag and spun the yarn all around like batter.

Adrian worked with me for an hour or more. We developed a system in which he would begin rolling a single strand of yarn—starting with an end we’d found in the jumbled pile.

He would roll the ball for as long as he could until he ran into a tangle.

Then he would hand the tangled part to me and I would shake out the various strands—haphazardly—until everything loosened up and we could find a pathway for his winding line to come loose and continue.

We celebrated the little-wins of completing a single ball—even the really small ones made from scrap yarn.

There were times when the yarn was so knotted or trapped within the many channels that I decided to cut it free with scissors—sacrificing, for our sanity, the potentially larger ball we could have constructed.

Adrian drifted-off to play with Jonah and I continued working even though I had not planned to spend so much of my day engaged with fiber.

I found one grouping of lines that were attached in such a way that they reminded me of a cat’s cradle string game.

I held up the pattern and looked through the geometric openings at Jonah and Adrian playing cards at the table outlined in various shades of blue from the multi-toned arrangement.

They didn’t notice.

Suddenly, my body became chilled.

Houses in Maine have a way of staying cool in the summer despite the higher temperatures and the fervent sun heating up tomato plants in gardens across the state.

It’s as if a sliver of winter hides out—nestled inside behind the wood stoves—occasionally spreading her coolness as a reminder of her status as most prominent season.

Gathering a particularly difficult entanglement, I went out to the front porch where it felt a good 10 degrees warmer.

Sitting on the front steps, my long-sleeves quickly seemed redundant under the sun’s glare as I attempted to find a way out of the mayhem in my grasp.

After a while, my efforts began to feel futile and my back started to hurt.

I knew this wasn’t a project I was going to finish in a single day and finally decided to give myself a break.

I went back inside and separated the balls we had completed and piled everything else back into the two bags, leaving them on the side of the room to be dealt with later.

I thought about how much this process of sorting out the yarn—and especially the many, colorful, tangled pathways—reminded me of the complexity of the inner journey, of doing the work of living.

It reminded me of what it means to follow the threads of our lives both backward and forward noticing how and where things began and the places where we run into hang-ups.

At times we grow with the help of others—often solitude is needed.

Celebrating any breakthroughs—no matter the breadth—fuels our ability to thrive.

Cutting our losses is sometimes necessary—releasing things and ways-of-life and people, even, that are keeping us stuck—freeing us up for continuing onward.

Sometimes working through a knot is warranted.

More than anything, I noticed how important it is to be gentle about the need to get somewhere—to finish.

Neither life nor the unraveling of knots are destination events.

Any beauty I have found in living has all been about dropping into the very moment before me—right there where the tangles and the pathways live—and finding a way to breathe, to breathe through it all.

 

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“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”—Stendhal

It was Friday afternoon and I was perched at a weathered, picnic table at the top of the stairs overlooking the dock.

The sun burned hot and bright—shining through the just-barely-fluttering birch leaves hanging out over the water creating a sense of transparency, like when light is diffused through kite paper.

The breeze was cool and intermittent, softly lifting a few strands of hair around my face and placing them back down so I could sweep them from my vision again and again.

I did what I could to brush aside, as well, the many, mounting rejections intrinsic to creative pursuit—and to temper the sadness and dismay building in my bones over innocent children dying in school once again.

There are ample reasons in any life to lose hope for humanity and for our aspirations—to lose faith in the power of benevolence and our ability to live safely, fruitfully, joyfully.

Even the smallest injustices can take root in any-one-of-us and germinate into something distorted and more powerful than what is merited if we allow it to.

Might we all find ways to examine this inner-alchemy and insist instead on a personal evolution—a way forward—expressive of greater compassion, deeper insight and specific calls-to-action unique to each of us.

Might our efforts spread and take root and become intertwined between us so that we might weave a world fit for us all—like an intricate basket—weighty yet giving to accommodate the vastness of our differences and our distinct need for one another.

When they first went down to the dock, Jonah and his spritely—his sisterly—friend tied heavy, metal objects to long ropes and tossed them out into the water repeatedly.

They noticed a pair of hermit crabs in the distance and wondered aloud if their rope could reach to touch them.

Adrian sat on the long part of the dock alone soaking in the sun and sea air, resting in his private thoughts.

Then he placed a frisbee with a mesh center and a faded, pinkish-orange frame over his head like a bouncy hat.

Later he made his way onto his stomach—legs stretched out behind him, arms propping him up—resting again.

A motor boat passed through the cove briskly heading for the shoreline off to our right creating fast, undulating waves and jostling the dock.

The quiet mood transformed with the rapid rhythm of the water and the kids sprung-up steadying themselves on the rocking raft like surfers, suddenly filled with new ideas for play.

In the distance an unusual sea craft appeared—one-part tug-boat, one-part barge—with a narrow tower emitting a small stream of smoke into the clear, blue sky.

I pointed it out, speaking in a regular voice despite my distance—my call-to-attention carrying swiftly and clearly in the vicinity of water.

This tendency has to do with air temperature and soundwaves and the way this dynamic allows for more of what we say to reach those who are listening.

Jonah ran up the stairs past me toward the house—inspired.

“Where’s the camera?” he shouted, unwilling to stop to hear my reply.

Soon they had the camera with the zoom-lens and a notebook with crayons poised to capture and record all that they saw and thought about these mysterious happenings.

I tried not to worry too much about the lens getting wet and perused the websites of the chosen artists on my laptop—at first glance the work appeared quite different from my own and impressive.

The mood by the dock changed again when the water calmed and a pair of ducks with a trail of five or six ducklings crossed just a few yards out into the bay.

We all seemed to notice them at once and expressed our glee at witnessing such a sweet sight.

It wasn’t long after that when a sock got stuck in a tree.

On a property with children, socks can be found just about anywhere.

The exploration moved up from the dock and behind me into our yard where Jonah had brought out two, long nylon ropes he found in the shed and together with his friend threw one side up high into a sprawling oak tree and over a branch.

Now there was a length of the rope hanging down on either side of the branch.

They decided to attach a thick, wool sock—one of Jonah’s—between the two strands of rope to create a sort-of seat or thick-knot where they could gain leverage with their bare feet or rest their behinds as they climbed up higher and higher, carrying the rope wrapped up in their legs with them.

When they tired of this pursuit, they threaded the other rope through the circular base of a swing that hung on the opposite branch of the tree.

They took turns climbing onto the swing and allowing the other person to pull it upward with the rope into a steep incline—then letting it go forcing the person holding the rope to run forward along with the swing so as not to get dragged by the momentum.

It was both inventive and dangerous-looking.

I took in their ingenuity doing my best not to gasp at the close-calls and thought about the delicate balance between allowing my children (and their friends) to test their abilities and pursue their visions and to be free, really, all the while trying to keep them safe.

Often giving them space to explore and believe I am not anywhere nearby feels like the most crucial choice I can make now to impact their future-ability to thrive.

It’s so hard to trust this critical process—this birthright—given what I know about the world, given what we all know.

It was a relief—and a return to balance in the weighted-scale of the afternoon—when Jonah and his friend left the swing and brought out the violin.

They both play and passed the instrument back and forth on the porch steps.

I noticed the way the light fell on them like actors on a stage.

Eventually I realized it was time to gather up the ropes and get us ready for an outing we had planned that evening.

The kids pulled on one side of the rope to retrieve it from the tree.

The sock-side went shooting to the top where it became lodged between two branches.

We yanked on it briefly attempting to release it and eventually had to abandon it to leave on-time.

I was surprised a few days later when I noticed the rope and sock had somehow been removed without my knowledge.

Jonah explained that he had accidentally released it when he had once again climbed the rope the following day and it came loose suddenly sending him onto the ground—onto his back—with a thump.

I’m not sure the sock ever made it back inside.

The days have grown longer in these last weeks—the sky illuminated at dawn and brimming with the emphatic narrative-of-the-birds, settling in for a season of greater ease.

 

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Like a cat in search of a light-strewn windowsill to curl up in, I’ve come and found a place in the sun on the front steps where the battleship-grey paint peels and dandelions sprout from the bluestone pathway.

Basking in sunlight has a way of lengthening my breath—of thawing out my hardened thoughts—giving-rise to the more-malleable realm of imagination.

Anything is possible.

Greater peace.

Full-circle connection.

A black, Labrador retriever, even, greeting me at the door—tail wagging, tongue dripping—out-of-breath with enthusiasm.

A breeze blows softly through the arm of my shirt billowing out my sleeve and raising the hairs on my arm—the contrast of heat and cool exhilarating, almost rousing enough to send me in for more layers.

The air mingles with metal and wood chimes—swaying above me—whispering a sublime song with just three or four delicate tones captured at the level of the heart—the place that occupies an infinite space within us yet is incapable of holding official, measurable weight.

Within the sound is an invocation of the holy—a call to pause on an ordinary afternoon just before school pick-up.

Might we all suspend thinking just long-enough to soak in the common backdrop that interweaves among us—no matter our beliefs or our locale.

Might we all experience this web of connection holding us up and propelling us forward, if only at a snail’s pace.

This is the how of the seeming coincidences—the timeless knowing—the magic.

The birds compete with the chimes whistling their own afternoon melody with glee—elated to steal the stage away from winter’s prolonged residence.

In a flash, a scarlet cardinal zips into the high, thin branches of a young, apple tree where small buds have begun to appear—soon to burst forth in cotton-candy-pink and white blossoms.

I envision how the red-bird would look juxtaposed with the soft-pink petals—the combination of hues striking.

Lemon-yellow is among the first colors to appear in the burgeoning, Spring landscape in Maine.

Arching forsythia branches stretch upward and wide as if awakening from a long sleep and fragrant daffodils speckle the landscape with cheer—like a child’s drawing taped-up in a dim hallway.

When Jonah and Adrian were smaller, we occupied our drive home from school pointing out, naming and remembering the patches of vibrancy that revealed themselves first—giving them monikers like Canary Corner, Big Bird and Golden Sun.

We would do it again in the fall when the leaves transformed into their gilded state—a favorite patch at the curve of the road where a semi-circle of trees would lose their golden leaves—seemingly all at once—painting the pavement as a yellow corridor.

When driving home from school recently we came upon another expression of nature’s capacity to take-our-breath-away in the form of an ample, draping tree with an abundance of soft-cream blossoms cascading toward the ground.

I pointed it out but couldn’t think of the name of the species.

I was surprised when Jonah piped in, “Oh, that’s a magnolia tree.”

He’s been astonishing me in all kinds of ways.

Last year in his class play he gave three lines—with his eyes closed, as if in meditation—the energy of the crowd drawing him within himself for comfort.

It was beautiful in a sense to see his sweet face soft and at rest in front of an audience and I admired that he did what he needed to, to care for himself.

I witnessed him on-stage again yesterday—transformed as if into another body completely—giving a dozen or more lines confidently and with feeling.

I could tell that he was still well-aware of the many eyes upon him, yet he had grown more sturdy and grounded—his roots lengthening, deepening with time.

Later, he held a clipboard at a baseball game checking-off the players on Adrian’s team as they went to the plate—his petals unfurling into blossom with the world around him.

The blue metal wheelbarrow with its burgundy hardwood handles has faded with time and sits near the flower beds where I left it before the rain—filled up with last year’s hydrangea stems.

The stems dried out in the fall and winter and were more like sticks when I cut them rather than flexible, living stalks.

I pruned them short for the first time in hopes of a more fruitful re-bloom—the last few summers only producing a couple of flowers on three large plants.

The bases of these perennials now appear like three porcupines attempting to hide in the flower beds, quills mid-emergence.

A heavy fog arrives in the evenings and at dawn dampening the intensity of Spring’s flourish—drawing on our patience and on our trust in the unfolding of the earth’s annual rebirth.

The anticipation of being lived-forward along with our breathing planet is palpable—a racehorse at the gates ready to run free—and important in its own-right.

Pausing.

Waiting.

Gathering up our stamina—our strength—for the inevitable continuation and push-forward in our own lives with all of their unique expressions and majesty.

Turning inward—quiet, still, listening.

Then outward—full, radiant, in-bloom.

 

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“Faith is a passionate intuition.”—William Wordsworth

This book is different than what you might find in a mainstream bookstore. The cover is a combination of white and pale-shaded blue—remarkably smooth to the touch—the illustrations fanciful and drawn in a pastel palette.

It has the feel of a children’s picture book more than a middle-age reader and was a gift for two boys’ birthdays celebrated two months after-the-fact.

From the drawing on the front they could see an adventure would be found within, yet Jonah and Adrian still wondered aloud whether the story would be adventurous enough.

Oh-how-enticing the lure of excitement can be.

Adrian will sometimes exclaim in certain situations—usually in response to the presence of a spread of sweets and some parental limitation—I’m so tempted!

I smile thinking about his words and wide-eyed expression and imagine all of the ways in which the world will call to him as he grows and the temperance he will need to harness at times.

I think about the restraint we all need to exercise so as not to be swept up into the appeal of instant gratification and constant diversion so available in today’s hastened reality.

When I check-out of these ways of being too-hurried and too tapped-into the perspectives of others, I notice a new—a renewed—energy rising up in me.

To shed constant noise and popular narrative is a little like being reborn.

I find myself engaged again with the rhythm of my own ready voice filled with the valuable instincts present in the spaciousness of conscious breathing, alive in the drinking-in of my child’s long and detailed story, whispering as I peer at clouds inching across the sky—draped in shadow, then in light.

The natural world sharpens into greater focus—branches of trees outlined thickly as if with a stick of charcoal, as if my contact lens prescription has suddenly been increased.

A greater nuance of color is revealed in my sight and my heartbeat steadies with every moment less I spend absorbed in a world of endless chatter.

Time seems to expand and worries around outcome lessen.

It will all get done. Or it won’t.

I will be known. Or I won’t be.

Stripping away the collective voice, we may arrive at the solitary—yet deeply fruitful—precipice of our own unique being where we may quietly mine our personal truth in living.

It was my kind of drawing—whimsical with an elegant boat made from the body of a swan—a delicate, lavender flower decorating the sail.

Aboard were three children with rosy cheeks and a gnome with a long redish-blond beard wearing a pointy hat standing at the helm where the swans neck rose up and curled forward in the shape of a hook or an umbrella handle.

A mermaid rode portside with green flowing hair and beneath the boat swam three single-eyed sea creatures.

I attempted to read in an animated voice to garner enthusiasm when we began huddled together in one twin bed where the light is better.

It wasn’t necessary though—the story was packed with compelling happenings from the start.

We finished a couple of chapters before we packed for our own adventure and I tucked the book into the boys’ backpack to read while we were away.

I was surprised by Adrian’s early awakening given our long journey and his brief slumber and had to peel my eyes open to greet him.

I had stayed up into the night unpacking, learning my way around our new accommodations and hunting for the coffee I knew would ground me in morning ritual the following day.

We found a wide chair with a giant ottoman to lounge in while I drank from a dreamy mug and then eventually made our way outside—into the back—where the sun cast heat in a way that we hadn’t felt upon our skin in Maine for many months.

The book was far from my mind.

There was a wooden shrine along the edge of the flourishing space with a large Buddha from the Indian tradition seated in the earth-touching position—an emblem of determination—and based on the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

I admired and photographed it from a particular angle to highlight a single strand of flora in the path of the sunlight landing at chest-height in front of it.

It became a touchstone in the coming days to gaze at the Buddha amidst the ruckus of kids in a pool—a flash of serenity among splashing chaos.

A wall of fuchsia bougainvillea almost-completely camouflaged a fence and there was a pool with a giant, inflated swan-boat-raft—seated at the edge—ready to be launched.

It was completely lost on me at first.

The white swan raft with its black markings and yellow beak looked fantastical and fun but I didn’t initially make any sort of connection.

It might have been the second night when we pulled out the book to read before bed that I finally looked at the cover and had a revelation.

We had arrived in a place where there was a literal swan boat available for our enjoyment mirroring the cover of our book and the story within.

On that first morning, I allowed Adrian to launch the swan into the pool.

He pushed it off the ledge and then leapt onto it fully-clothed, shortly after falling in.

There was practically incessant riding-on-the-swan-boat, leaping-onto-the-swan-boat and nearly-destroying-the swan-boat’s neck by four children for five days.

Clearly the one with the long, curly, blond locks was the mermaid and any of the other three could have been the gnome or the sea creatures.

When we weren’t by the pool we were absorbing sun and beauty in other nearby locales.

We had just come from a hike in Topanga Canyon and from scarfing down food from In-N-Out Burger.

We were exiting into the parking lot from the restaurant when a man we had passed by the doorway, called out to me.

Jonah and Adrian were sun-kissed with white and blue hoods pulled up over their heads in protection from the strong rays—slow and sleepy from the activity and the food.

The man began following us.

He was sun-burned, too, and appeared to be either homeless or nearly so.

I heard him say something again and I quickly scanned my inner alarm-system for any signals that I should gather my boys more near.

Instead I received the opposite message and knew distinctly to turn toward him—not away.

He began telling me in his drawn-out voice that he had recently heard a radio program about penguins and that my two boys in their white and blue hoods somehow reminded him of those adorable creatures wobbling along.

I could see his point entirely and his comment had immediate significance given our family’s recent association with penguins.

We thanked him for the message—taking in his weathered face and watery eyes—wishing him well.

Enjoy those bambinos, he’d said as he strolled off.

After he’d gone, we all began talking at once.

Penguins! Can you believe it!

This message wasn’t lost on any of us.

Life has a way of speaking to us when we have hearts to listen.

Sometimes it can take time and reflection to understand the directions in which we are being guided.

Often the world is offering reassurance that can only be understood in hindsight.

There are vast meanings attributed to the symbolism of the swan drawing from ancient mythology to dream analysis to Shamanism to Native American Totems.

The thread that seems to weave the many interpretations together is the emphasis on intuitive listening—our abilities to live gracefully within this invisible dance with something greater than us—and our receptivity to messages delivered from another realm sometimes by angels who walk right here among us as if in disguise.

This might be the slowest entrance into Spring that I’ve experienced since moving to Maine nearly nine years ago.

Wool and blankets are staples still.

Tiny buds have begun to appear on branches—though you have to look really closely to notice them.

Strangely, there will be a spike in temperature with a high of 80 degrees forecasted for tomorrow—a welcome relief from the low-draping clouds and the chill.

My hope is to be among the natural world soaking in the warmth and the silence and listening intently for the exquisite call of the swan.

 

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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau

From three stories up in my somewhat-finished, attic-studio, the peaks of the tallest pines tower still several stories above me.

I’ve observed these skyscraping timbers more times than I can count seated in this cornflower blue, damask chair that once lived in Jonah’s room when his voice still lilted—a few octaves higher—and we planned to meet in our dreams on a pebble-strewn beach—he with a red balloon, me with my purple, sparkly shoes.

We were like characters in a Carolyn Curtis book in our envisioned dreamscapes—taking the moon out for a walk and hoping to be together even when we slept.

Pregnant with Adrian—my skin ached when it stretched taut in the last few weeks before his birth.

Jonah and I would crowd onto the chair to read—the two of us barely able to fit and my having to find room for breath—lungs all squished up by the baby inside and the little boy with the pointy elbows practically in my lap.

I would imagine what it was like for Adrian to know Jonah’s voice from the other side of the womb and when they did finally meet, Jonah climbed right over me in the hospital bed to Adrian so that he could be near him and say to him, elbow, as he rubbed his small fingers along Adrian’s silky skin still emanating aromas from another world.

Wearing his new big brother t-shirt, Jonah looked at me curiously—his blond hair lit up by the sun streaming in through the window—and then pointed up at the wall, “clock!” he’d said.

I was worried that he hadn’t eaten and he looked so big I could have sobbed but I kept a cheerful demeanor so as not to upset him.

“You made it …. You made it …” I cried to Adrian, again and again when he was handed to me—marveling at his crimson lips and pink skin—still wearing a soft, comforting shirt from my labor, woven with pastel ribbons near the collar and a hoodie of all things.

Taped to the side of my bed—as inspiration—was a photograph of Jonah just after he was born with his hands up by his mouth, skin bare, eyes wide and alert.

Remnants of tape from hanging it there line the edge of the tattered photo still today.

When I thought we might move, I panicked wondering whether I had come to know all of the trees within my midst and feared that I might leave having passed up the opportunity to know them all intimately.

I looked up at the plentiful oak out-front and off to the side—easily overlooked—and admired its quiet magnificence and outstretching branches.

Adrian once spotted a large creature in that tree.

He was still so little then— it’s hard to understand his attention being drawn upward to a spot higher than the roofline of our home, but it was.

It was almost as if his mind was tapped into another frequency of connectivity calling out to him and letting him know of its presence unbeknownst to me—like how a dog can hear the high pitch of a whistle undetectable by man.

We spent afternoons together then in our driveway—drawing with chalk and setting up a makeshift tennis court with a jump-rope tied between two, plaid lawn-chairs.

He has always had an awareness about him that goes beyond his years.

He once went through a phase in which he gave out tickets to people who called him cute.

According to him, it was ok if you called him sweet or kind or even precious.

I once asked him how much I would have to pay for all of the tickets I had accumulated and he said authoritatively (and oh-so-cutely) rocking his head from side to side to the rhythm of his words, “as many as the tickets you get.”

As a seven-year-old—knowing this story about himself well—he recently came up with the idea of reinstituting this issuing-of-tickets as a way of raising funds.

I would never have noticed the black and prickly beast nestled at the intersection of the two high-up branches—but Adrian did.

It took us digging out the binoculars and observing closely to figure out there was an oversized porcupine hovering high above us in that tree—not an ape or other out-of-place animal like it seemed.

From an upstairs window, the silhouette of a voluptuous woman is formed in the trunk of another oak tree—the curve of her breast evident, arms opening wide and at just the right height to form the soft sway of her underarm and perhaps the start of her hips.

She’s angled in such a way that she seems to look out at the water in a posture of open-hearted surrender.

Here I am.

I frequently gaze out at her and imagine that I might embody that same sense of renunciation of all things that separate us from what is real.

I invite instead a rootedness in the timeless—an observation of the world through the lens of something more lasting and bigger than me.

I wonder how I could have missed this figure just outside my window for all these years.

It’s a world of its own up in the canopy of these less-than-a-dozen pines gathered together like a tribe on view from my 3rdfloor studio.

I can only really guess what transpires in that lofty layer while noticing it from afar—the crows swooping about establishing their territory and vying for food, the air brimming with the fragrance of pine needles.

Movement is subtle at this height where the trunks become more and more slender as they rise upward to the top—revealing only the slightest, circular sway of the cone like branches even when the winds are high.

It is rare this late in the season for buds yet to have revealed themselves on tree branches—most deciduous trees still skeletal and spindly looking here in Maine.

All other signs—the dandelions, crocus and the mud—point to the breath-of-spring palpable and near—poised and ready for revealing herself more fully at any moment.

 

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“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”—Henry Miller

I probably should have located my destination on a map before getting in the car. I vaguely remembered having seen an exit sign for the town on 295 so I believed the highway would be the fastest route.

I imagined I would be avoiding the steep and winding country roads I had once traversed to get there years ago—in the dark, in search of a theater, still new to Maine.

It was a grey and dreary morning—somewhat rare here.

To friends from away I often describe the luster of winter in this rocky, coastal place—the brilliance of the sun’s rays bouncing off of snow, our position on the edge of the continent seeming to limit the shadows cast by heaps of living going on across the country to one side of us.

With the way the light lands and our position on a map it seems as if we are perched up more propitiously for the absorption of sunlight than in other geographical locations— though this isn’t exactly true when considering actual altitudes.

When I contemplate the way the light falls here, I remember the time I traveled in college to the coast of Portugal from Spain where I was studying.

With three friends, I rented a tiny, maroon car— a Twingo—for a long and scorching holiday weekend.

We drove it to the furthest edge of the European continent and took a photograph pretending to push it over the steep drop.

In the town we stayed—with its cobblestone streets—I took another photograph of a dark-skinned, African man in a tapas bar wearing bright-yellow and smiling at me.

I appreciated the contrast of his black skin, white teeth and lemony shirt.

I couldn’t understand why my Spanish friend laughed when he came upon this photo in an album I later created.

And he just couldn’t comprehend why I would take that photo.

At dusk we saw another man painting, a palette in hand—standing at his easel on a rocky cliff—pantless.

I photographed him, too.

The quality of light there was like it is here—occupying a space in the experience of living—like when we say silence is a member of a meditative group.

Let me be a member anywhere where silence and the light show up.

I had programmed the address where I was heading into my GPS so as I entered the highway it began redirecting me back to the sinuous roads I was avoiding.

I kept driving—ignoring it—thinking it was going to eventually line-up with the route I thought I knew existed.

I noticed suddenly—according the machine’s arrival time—I was barely going to make it to the memoir workshop I was attending.

At the start of the trip I had twenty minutes to spare. My arrival time now suggested I would likely be entering a room full of participants—mid-icebreaker.

I finally succumbed to the imploring requests and endless recalculating to leave my misguided concept of a faster route for the more labyrinthine journey that I remembered.

The ashen day enhanced the quality and aura of the homes I drove past on my redirected route—many in significant disrepair with paint peeling and wood rotting.

The lawns were peppered with broken-down cars and other debris.

I wondered if it was cold inside with the biting chill in the air.

My mood mirrored the weary appearance of the long stretch of rolling road.

I don’t assume that the state of a home necessarily reflects the state of the heart of its inhabitants—I have witnessed meager homes with mighty occupants and the reverse.

And yet, on that stretch of road, I was reminded of the struggle and suffering holding an ample space among us.

When I arrived at my destination I drove through an area that reflected the more urban version of what I had seen en-route—boarded up windows on row houses, packs of kids traveling in too-thin clothing, shop-signs dangling, rusted-out railroad tracks.

Parking hurriedly, I gathered up my many layers of clothing and lunch, a backpack and a coffee to sharpen my thoughts.

The sign for the gathering reflected a start-time one-hour before I had arrived.

Holding off disappointment, I checked my confirmation to make certain I had the right time and asked the librarian for directions to the meeting room—twice.

The sign was misleading and it turned out I was in the right place at just-about the right time.

Finally I found the room where I was meant to be.

I listened at the double doors for a moment and caught a glimpse through the crack between them of a large, square table surrounded by people with notebooks and laptops and hot drinks.

Someone was speaking—making an introduction in a lively way.

Later I would think of her as seeming familiar to me.

“We do not make friends, we recognize them.”

I turned the handle on the door—it seemed to be locked at first.

I rotated it again quietly and pulled—a little harder—opening it and entering as unobtrusively as I could.

My hand shook slightly in my flowered, fingerless glove—shaken by the rush and the hit of caffeine—as I balanced my coffee and all of my things, taking in the welcoming words—faces filled with anticipation—and finding my place at the table.

I was as wrong about Spring’s fervent arrival with her her elbows nudging winter out as I was about my route to the workshop.

Snow came down doggedly last week weighting down the lowest pine branches until their tips touched the ground.

There is more of it—on its way.

The sun is uncovered and blazing this morning.

The crows are playing a game at the tops of the trees—calling out fiercely again and again.

 

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” —William Wordsworth

The days of summer that nourish me the most are the hottest ones in the final weeks of August when the calendar is empty of plans, the days long and meandering—filled with casual outings to near and far-away beaches along the coastline.

In this time a calming pulse drifts in like the tide steading the frenzy of activity, allowing for a pause just before the bustle and transformation of fall.

It is on these days I stand still—barefoot in the yard—absorbing the sensation of skin on soil imagining roots winding down beneath the souls of my feet, grounding and balancing me on the planet.

I stroll along the shoreline of beaches with my boys in search of driftwood and colorful seaweed, textured shells and fallen rose hips to be positioned together as art and left to be drunk up by the sea.

My grasp on my children loosens and allows for more daring scaling of trees and leaping without nets, for rejection of sunscreen and bedtime and an increase in late nights by the fire, under the stars.

The garden weeds become like a jungle around the tomato plants and the winding vines of the gourds with their tendrils and yellow and white flowers. I wonder how I could have been—once again—so negligent with the weeding even as I discover a mammoth zucchini beneath the flurry of stray vegetation.

Later I take a photograph of it draped across Jonah’s arms—like a prize. It reminds me of Jack and the Beanstalk somehow—the exponential quality of growth when sun and soil and moisture mingle with magic in a dance of sustenance and creation.

When evenings start to hint of Autumn’s chill, I begin dreading the dismantling of the wire fence around the garden—constructed yearly to keep the lumbering, resident groundhog from consuming our harvest.

If I left it, the harsh Maine winter would wear away the forest-green paint that blends with the plants and leave rusty metal behind. It wouldn’t do its job anymore, either.

I know it will be less demanding to take it apart and store it away while the days are still long and balmy. Yet I often wait until the first frost to finally lift the heavy stones lining its base, to pull pins from the earth—holding it in place—and to lay the wire out across the ground flat so that I can pull the weeds that have grown between the beehive like design and tuck it back into the shed for a winter’s rest.

Somehow that day always seems colder than even mid-winter’s deepest freeze, my blood vessels seemingly still dilated from summer’s sultry hover and slow to adjust. Shivering, I wonder whether all of the work is worthwhile—whether I made enough gazpacho and zucchini bread to justify all of the effort.

A few weeks ago I drove along a highway lined with pine forests. Rain was coming down, the road lined with tall banks of snow—enormous pine branches hung heavy, now wetted with rain.

As the showers kept coming, the towering trees seemed to come alive with the new weightiness of their branches. I imagined them as characters from, Where the Wild Things Are, traipsing along the highway beside the cars.

I could almost feel the shuffling gate of their giant limbs.

Despite the frequent rain, there are still tall drifts of snow in our yard, up to my shoulders—pushed out of the driveway by the snowplow—and a thick layer of snow and ice on the ground.

The light has begun to change, the days lingering—dusk more delicate and glassy. Though still long off, fragrant spring air is palpable. I can sense it on my skin, like a feather’s touch.

The temperatures that in November dwelled in my bones sending me to the woodstove now call me comfortably outside in a light sweater.

I begin to imagine what I will find in the garden when the snow finally melts and is absorbed back into the ground. I wonder what nutrients the pumpkins have shared with the soil as they fell apart into pieces, disintegrated—hidden beneath an icy layer—over many, quiet months.

I remember how pretty they looked when I first placed them in the raised beds—the round, orange surface striking against the backdrop of wispy, white flakes of snow.

The sky is a soft blue with tufts of powder pink clouds angling downward toward the hazy horizon. It’s the color of a new baby’s arrival, the hue of new life.

The soil beckons me from deep beneath a still-snowy surface—ripe for massage and cultivation—ready for soiled nails, wiggly worms and rebirth.

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“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”—Lao Tzu

The morning is bright and crisp. The long, doubled rope of the swing out back vibrates with the wind—each strand of line separating and then coming back to the other again and again. Occasionally a powerful gust of wind will come and sweep the entire swing upward and then back again, like a swaying pocket watch used in hypnosis.

The bay is hidden in a field of white. A large shadow of the giant pine drapes over the sparkly surface, evidence of the sun having recently risen. There is only one uncovered stream of water in the distance—rolled out like a navy blue carpet across the landscape of white.

In the hallway there are a string of deflated balloons—yellow and orange and green—still tied together with golden, curling ribbon. In the bathroom, the wide sink surface is covered in diamond shaped cardboard—Adrian’s current ambition to use toilet paper rolls that he has wet, uncurled and dried for collection and creation.

His impulse to repurpose household materials for art brings a smile to my face. My heart expands in recognition of the ways we rub-off on our children. Some of them are good.

I don’t know what I was thinking booking a flight that departed at dawn. Waiting to pack until just before bed, I noticed a slight pulsing pain in my head, the turning of my stomach. I set my alarm for three hours before we would be taking off and climbed into bed with ample time to rest.

Closing my eyes, I found myself on a carnival ride—the Gravitron in my mind spinning me around and around as if I were in my 20’s again having had too much to drink.

My options seemed bleak. I imagined having to cancel my trip—disappointing a grieving friend. I thought about the risks of bringing illness out into the world and to those who I love.

I wondered whether the maladies flooding our community had taken root in me—our bodies and minds so absorbent of the experiences of others—also, germ theory.

The hours passed, I didn’t sleep.

Instead I searched around myself for a place that was well—for an energy I recognize, even in my most debilitating moments when it shows up as only a tiny spec of hope.

I both greeted the discomfort entirely—swinging around on the tilt-o-whirl inside of me—and simultaneously expanded the stream of what I can only describe as perfect wellness, allowing it to flood the rest of my body with its vigor.

Beneath my doubts, a mantra pulsed through me, “I am well.”

A new reality was explaining itself to the cells of me. One by one they were jumping on board in deference to the Universal flow that is always at our service.

I have needed to be sick at times. I have collapsed feverish into rest like a corpse—freeing myself from the demands of doing and holding and keeping pace with the rapid swirl of the world. I have allowed the opportunity of illness to be revealing in its potent delivery of directives.

I have used medicine to help me heal—to ward of germs or promote wellness when I haven’t had the impulse or energy to will a change in the state of my body.

Even as I invited a shift in my being, I accepted the possibility that my early morning path would not look the way I hoped it would.

I straddle the worlds of personal, creative power and the mystery of the will of the Gods and biology—one leg each on either side of a seesaw catapulting through space and time.

I finally collapsed into a nourishing rest for about an hour before I needed to get up.

When my alarm sounded, my head was clear. I felt steady and strangely rested. I checked in with myself again and again as I showered and got dressed and rolled my weekend travel bag down the hallway in the dark, my two children draped with blankets in the winter’s night.

I was fully well.

Traveling so early, I found myself on the second leg of my journey in a row of seats by myself. I felt grateful for the extra space. It reminded me of traveling alone when I was very young and before the time when flights are mostly oversold and packed tightly with little breathing room between passengers.

The temperature in the airplane was frigid. The flight-attendant was apologizing and handing out blankets. I layered up all of the clothing I had with me including my colorful, fingerless gloves.

I have been re-reading the books that have most influenced my life and way of being in the world. It is interesting revisiting them as a mother now and noticing the ways in which they sit with me differently.

One of the gifts of having children is the wider lens it offers us unto ourselves. I have found in witnessing my boys’ impulses and needs, their tendencies and humanity I have been able to unearth further the places in myself that have been shut-down and ignored.

In nurturing them I have come to value more my own right to well-being. I have come to forgive more readily my mistakes—like I would theirs.

We all arrive here with all that we need. Remembering who we are—our original essence—and accepting the exquisite lightness of that being is the task at hand.

Huddled in my seat—still fully well—I read and read and then I would occasionally place my head back on the seat, removing the elastic holding my hair in a knot so that I could be more comfortable, closing my eyes and drifting off into a peaceful rest.

Yesterday afternoon it snowed unceasingly for many hours. Jonah desperately wanted to have a family snowball fight. I was the only taker. We decided to go for a walk first knowing the battle would leave us wet and wanting to go back inside.

The snow was still coming down as we walked along our hushed and deserted road blanketed in white. I convinced him to walk all the way to the house with the yellow Hummer in the driveway—its color popping out like a canary on a birch branch.

We walked briskly there—the snow layering up on my aqua blue hat and blending with my white scarf, making my neck wet.

Coming back we strolled more slowly.

Nearing our house again, Jonah stopped in the middle of the road and tipped his head back, closing his eyes. I took him in as his soft, pink cheeks greeted the wet snowflakes for a long while.

When he raised his head up, he told me how good it felt to do that. I said I would like to try. He looked on while I tipped my head back, closing my eyes and allowing the cold dampness to dot my face. I imagined the cool flakes thinning my makeup.

I noticed the refueling of my body engaged in the natural world.

When we got to the driveway, I gathered up the fluffy snow—too soft for a real snowball—and tossed it at Jonah. He took the bait and began running off toward his snow fort for shelter where he could ambush me in safe cover.

The snow we threw at each other separated like powder in the air again and again and we laughed breathlessly finally deciding that tomorrow would be a better day for real snowballs.

We decided to go down to the dock where a virtual tundra surrounded the shoreline. Jonah ventured out onto the boulder like structures of ice wanting to dip his gloves into the icy, watery mix at their base and create formations with this enticing mixture.

I kneeled down into the snow on the dock observing him, trying to notice and latch onto any warmth in my body so that I could stay out a few minutes longer.

Jonah summoned me more near.

“Will you catch me if I fall in?” he asked.

“I will,” I said.

“What would you do?” he pressed.

I replied in absolute confidence from the deepest knowing of my soul.

“I would do whatever it takes to save you.”

 

 

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“Out of difficulties grow miracles.”—Jean de la Bruyere

The puzzle room is occupied by two women—huddled in the padded chairs, conversing. I’ve made my way to the backside of the library—lined with a row of floor-to-ceiling windows jutted up against a dense forest.

The sun is pitched high in the sky—unencumbered by clouds—painting more-white the few birch peppered among the ample pines. Among the coniferous species, these imposing hardwoods—known for their flaky bark that burns so vigorously in woodstoves—stand out like skeletons, bleached and wiry.

Thirty-six degrees feels balmy after the recent stretch of below zero temperatures—days so cold wool-covered fingers ached and children’s cheeks grew rosy dangerously fast as they played on the swing. Layers of clothing have been shed, the build up of winter’s accumulations rapidly turning to liquid.

Growing heavier in its altered state, the snow tumbles down clumsily from high above in the trees leaving the bottom branches flapping—like wings.

Birds—awakened by this January thaw—flit around praising the warmth. A chainsaw gnaws in the distance and I keep my head tilted upward—absorbing the blue sky through branches. The places behind my eyes soften—like tepid puddles.

I could cry for the beauty of just being.

In a world so entranced by production and acquisition, quiet sitting and reflecting feels like a weighty act of rebellion.

The relief from the fierce chill is like a heavy backpack stripped off and placed on the ground—mirroring the sensation of living when life’s trials have eased.

A slight breeze kicks up and all of the branches begin to flutter ever so slightly—the peaks of the trees sway almost imperceptibly from side to side in a gentle rhythm as if in response to a silent symphony playing out the story of the lifting freeze.

My friend dropped off a milk crate and three plastic bags filled with plants I offered to adopt when her mother moved to a nursing home. Many of the plants were wilted and in need of care. Five of them were orchids.

I had warned her of my troubled history with most houseplants even as I hoped voraciously to offer them a loving home. I don’t think she believed me.

I wondered if she thought my affinity for all things green translated into an innate ability to sustain life force deeply dependent on a precarious balance of light, water and nourishment.

“I know you have a green thumb,” she said when she dropped the plants at my house—like orphans in a basket on a doorstep—the weather still frigid then.

Jonah and I took the bags and crate from her in the doorway by the garage—brisk air blew into the toasty, warm kitchen. In our socks we stood on the floral rug and waved goodbye, thanking her, she thanking us.

There are a slew of orchids that have died within my care. Exquisitely beautiful and promising in the grocery stores and garden centers, they are short-lived in my home.

Placing an ice cube in their soil religiously on Fridays—like a celebration of the coming Sabbath—I imagine them thriving. I take in their beauty as long as I can, somehow knowing their eventual fate.

Inevitably—as if inscribed in their design—I watch as their petals drop off and their leaves wilt.

I frantically over-water them. They quickly perish.

In the early morning after Autumn died, I walked aimlessly through a fluorescent-lit grocery store. Two robust and flowering plants caught my eye. I bought them both—their white flowers seeming a felicitous memorial to the loss of my beloved, feline friend.

Around Christmas I found in a hardware store two marine-colored, glossy ceramic pots and bought those too. I placed the plants in the pots in the kitchen where I could nurture them in the way I had Autumn—attentively and throughout the day.

Recently I read that grief is the overwhelming sensation of love with nowhere to land. Each time I’ve walked past these two plants —a cyclamen and a hydrangea—I have placed love in their midst. I have allowed their presence to soothe me. I have fretted over them, too.

I removed the various plants from the bags and crate and began tending to them. I snipped off dying leaves and topped off the pots with a bag of potting soil I had on hand.

My kitchen sink became filled with verdant leaves and soil circling the drain.

Outside the snow was hardening, inside a burgeoning conservatory was coming to life.

I found a spot on a plant stand in the corner by the stairs for the leafy bonsai that was thriving more than most of the new arrivals. I wondered whether I would know how to care for it properly, or if it would freeze to death being so near our large, front picture window that emanates cold, Maine, winter winds.

I felt intermittently hopeful and apprehensive—like toad, in the Frog & Toad story, “The Garden,” in which toad wants to have a garden like frog and proceeds to hover over his recently planted seeds anxiously—trying to will them to grow.

I recommitted to the other plants in our home that in some ways I have neglected. I fed them all with fresh soil and plant food and water. I made little arrangements of similar species, grouped together.

One of the largest plants was drooping badly. It was the last that I tended to. I removed many long, yellowing and some drying leaves. It drank up the water I poured into it. I placed it among a group of plants at the top of our stairs.

In the morning, I was encouraged to see that it—along with my own Christmas cactus that I’ve somehow managed to keep alive for eight years—had risen upright in the night. Its leaves stood tall and expansive. It radiated, “I’m alive, I’m alive” into the space.

Our home is bright in many ways. In the winter months, though, direct sunlight and warmth on windowsills are hard to come by. This can be difficult for all living beings.

I can give the plants water and attention and artificial light. In this season, I cannot bring them to the sun.

My hope is that the light I carry within—the energy I have in me that is seeking a place to reside—can find a place to land in these forces of nature nourishing them until the earth tilts toward the sun once again—lengthening our days and fueling our souls.

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“Clouds symbolize the veils that shroud God.”—Honore de Balzac

My head has been in the clouds these last few days—the sky scape with its disparate displays drawing my attention upward. Throughout the day, the clouds are spread out like puzzle pieces awaiting connection, their texture like stretched wool, the colors muted with pastel blues and the slightest tint of pink separating the willowy masses. The canvas of clouds feels near—hovering—almost as if it belongs to another planet, another world completely.

At sunset a vast contrast occurs—the sky dividing into fragments of intense streaks of sienna and amaranth pink. Thin slivers of bright, golden light divide the layers of color. Tall pines become black towers in the foreground of the vibrant display as we drive through forested lands, peering for a glimpse of the setting sun.

The clouds at this hour disappear all together.

As an early-riser and also sometimes-keeper-of-the-night, I mostly collapse into bed dead-tired, falling off to sleep within moments. I fall asleep mid, “thank you,” a parade of images from my day flooding through me. I like this feeling. I watched my father work himself to the bone for much of my life and I’ve come to understand the impulse— the easing quality of meaningful hard work—and the contentment of collapsing at the end of the day, mission accomplished.

Occasionally, I will prioritize sleep, aware of the opportunity to be transported to a healing and renewing place. I dream more vividly and grasp for the messages imparted. I wake up feeling as if my brain has been reset. I recently got into bed before I was bleary-eyed sensing that it might be a while before I slept. I laid on my back—a heavy, down blanket covering me—and placed one hand on my abdomen and the other on my heart. I dropped down into myself—like falling into a vast, dark night’s sky. I might have been a feather floating in space.

I was aware of my spine but I experienced everything else as pure energy. At first, there were clouds huddled in my midst—bunched up and stormy—heavy—especially around where my throat and lower back might have been. I noticed a part of myself that began winnowing out the particles of these billowy vapors, freeing them to return to their rightful place. The essence of me was like a sheet being pulled back taut and tucked in.

I drifted in the wake of this movement noticing a greater buoyancy of my being, noticing a sense of having been recharged and made right again.

Jonah is nearly nine years old now. The top of his head rests at the top of my sternum and he likes to show how strong he is by picking me up. He bends at the thighs—creating a firm center of gravity—and wraps his arms around me mid-leg, lifting me into the air at an angle—like a rocket ready to be launched.

I feel like I might topple over and yell, “that’s enough, that’s enough!” He insists in his demonstration I not hold onto anything. I try to be a good sport and cooperate, tightening my body like a dancer in a lift.

Despite his strength, he’ll still climb into my lap and let me hold him. I wrap my arms around his waste or chest hoping we’ll always be so close, knowing it is impossible.

When he was littler and would sit in my lap, I would sometimes pat him on the back almost like I was playing a drum. Once his spritely friend was over and I was patting his back and she exclaimed, “why are you beating him?” She laughed and laughed. Whenever I did that to him—and I sometimes still do—it felt like I was helping him to come more fully into his body. It felt like I was grounding his airy nature and securing him onto the earth.

Yesterday I had intended to begin working on the second part of a two-piece creation in my, “Free to Play” art project. I had first created an image of my younger son Adrian leaping off of our back porch—his pocket goldfish-orange. I planned to create an image of what precipitated the jump—the crouch before the launch.

I went in search of the tracing paper I use in the first phase of the work and saw—and remembered—that I had finished the roll. I didn’t have time to go out and buy more materials before school pick-up so I began looking around to see if there were some scraps of paper I could tape together and use.

I couldn’t find any but I did come across a sketch of a woman—folded over in grief—that I had worked with previously.

I felt inspired to return to that image with the time I had. I could feel myself returning, also, to the original joy of this process without the constraints of planning and instead following an inner guidance system that drew me to particular colors and textures and shapes and showing me how to piece them together in an intuitive way—like a puzzle put together in the dark.

As I worked, I noticed a thinning out of the energy within me—the bunched up places unfurling and returning to balance. I felt a sense of relief and as if the atmosphere was clearing and a thousand tiny lights were being switched back on—brightening the way and returning me to firm footing once again.

 

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” —Unknown

I’ve got myself stationed at the kitchen island—hoody zipped up, a string of felted, fall decorations at my side waiting to be hung, the fire steeped in embers.

From here I can glimpse the tops of their heads bobbing in the yard, kicking a ball high into the air with a friend. I aim to strike a balance between keeping them alive and keeping their soul’s mission intact. It seems they’ll jump off of anything no matter the height—no matter the rusty, slicing edges. They hurdle through my room at night showing me they can.

Their faces flushed red from the cold peer in now asking to venture down to the dock. I leave the back door open to the screen—frigid, sea air bursting in forcing the heat out of the room. I can hear them—the tide is in so I want to be able to hear them. Soon they are back up, dragging an enormous pine branch in the shape of a V across the lawn, gifted from the persistent winds.

His head is tilted back under the faucet, his eyes shut—lips cherry red. I’m holding his neck with one hand and using the other to smooth the water through his hair, gently massaging his head, admiring his slight widow’s peak. The water is warm and makes his hair seem a darker, chocolaty brown. The repetition is soothing him, it is soothing me.

I rinse his hair long after the soap is gone and think about the ripple effect of learning to be present in his hurts—what it has meant for mine. I think about the overlap between seeing and listening. They have so much to say to me! Sometime I really listen to every word trying to follow along and sometimes I just look closely—like at a painting—their faces inscribed in the lining of me.

I’ve been noticing the way their voices echo an earlier time—the cadence, the selection of the word evening instead of night, the head tilt in delivery all exactly the same as when they were two and four, even as maturity washes over them. I soak in their newness even as they grow and grow.

There is such simple, exquisite beauty to be witnessed in the human encounter—every gesture a verse, each expression a lifeline to be grasped onto and pulled more near. Life’s most precious gifts can be discovered in the seeing and in the wanting to know. Found in the pausing and seeking to hear. Let presence be an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness. Let seeing extinguish the smoking, contagion of distraction.

I close my eyes when I take in your story over coffee—in the gutted warehouse—listening for any wisdom I might draw from the backdrop of me and impart onto you. I would cast a spell to drive out the unjustness if I could.

 I’ve taped up the card you made for me—imagining what it meant to write the words of a poem in the outline of a bird. The emotion in your eyes—not lost on me.

 At dinner I pretend that we have never met and ask about your dreams. I want to know this part of you, “she wants to dream with you.”

You wait for me by my car just to check in and make sure I am ok. I invite you to dinner once more. The boys are waiting in the car.

You confide how hard it has been—no end in sight. I say what I can about a grief I haven’t known and despite my stumbling way you keep sharing with me.

When I look into your eyes, something lights up inside of me. We might say nothing—or everything—depending on the day.

It’s evening now. They are gathered closely around me near the chair I am sitting in—a fire brightens the space around us like a stage. Jonah is describing a play he saw at school—acting out a scene in which a character in battle is overcome with a sword. He uses a long knife from his ninja costume to demonstrate, falling to the ground dramatically.

I ask him which part he would have liked to play. I assume the upper-grades had performed the show recently for the younger children and I hadn’t heard about it.

He clarifies that it was a production he saw two years ago.

I marvel at the way the story has lived in him as he goes on to recite a funny scene in which one of the British soldiers who received a letter from The French claims that he recognizes the word “chicken” written in French. To the delight of the audience, he interjects the word wherever he can despite the insistence from the French speaking soldiers that the word is never mentioned.

He goes on to describe the part he would like to have played. It was another soldier who stood very straight and tall—he shows me, tucking in his chin —guarding a bridge. He was instructed to destroy the bridge when he saw the enemy approaching. With perfect comic timing the soldier—and Jonah—responds, “after we’ve crossed it, right?” He grins like a professional, nearly winking. It would have been the perfect part for him. I tell him so.

Standing next to my chair, Adrian’s got his arm wrapped around mine as we have been taking in Jonah’s performance together. For some reason he’s got a coin in his hand and he’s rhythmically rubbing it against one of my two bracelets. It’s almost as if he is strumming a guitar. I turn to him and we’re both listening now to the very slight sound that he’s been making and I say, “you know this bracelet is actually made from a guitar string.”

He looks back at me smiling, strumming away without saying a word.

It really was a bracelet made from the sting of a guitar. I imagine all of the things that had to come together in order for him to find a way to play a little tune right there on my wrist.

 

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“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” —Anais Nin

I was wearing a favorite dress the day we closed on our house in Maine— the front beginning to fill out with my rounded, stretching, pregnant belly. This was our second attempt at ushering in a new life, the first lost just a few days before the departure for an intricately planned trip back to Spain—a place I had lived and studied in my final year of college.

I somehow blamed myself for the pregnancy ending. It was my body I had no control of and I couldn’t seem to will the hormones in the right direction. My skin crawled when people minimized the loss with their relentless insistence that it happens all of the time. They seemed not to understand my attachment to the dream—a vision that had died along with the tiny beating—I had briefly seen it beating—heart.

While I was living in Spain—with my youthful rounded face, platinum dyed blond hair—I had joined a group of students traveling and together we had boarded a ferry out of Le Havre, France heading to Ireland and spent a spooky Halloween night crossing the Celtic Channel. We played cards, smoked Fortunas and never slept.

We were greeted at dawn in Cork by a white sliver of light glimmering off the water and the rocky coastline—much like the Maine landscape. Eventually we made our way to Galway where we were met at the train station by a woman offering her home as a hostel. Boats rocked gently in the bay painting the horizon in vibrant pastels enhanced by the sun—pink, mauve and baby blue.

We slept in twos lined up together in feathered beds and woke to an Irish breakfast like that of my childhood, the table filled with fluffy eggs and buttered toast, pancakes and tea. I felt at home in a way that seemed woven within my DNA, tracing back to my Irish heritage. I thought that I could have lived there or had been there before.

We found a second hand store and bought old, woolen sweaters to keep off the chill and made our way to a bar where we mixed with the locals. I met a young man—a fellow student—who asked me what I thought about “the troubles” and the recent strides toward peace. I could hardly make out what he was saying through his thick brogue and the hum of the packed pub but I knew he was referencing the years of conflict in Northern Ireland that has spilled over into his and other parts of the world.

Later we huddled together by an enormous ventilation system of a warehouse building, trying to stay warm with the rush of air from the fans. I saw him once again a few years later, this time on the other side of the pond. We took a night-time carriage ride together through Central Park, his friend was our driver. We flipped through a copy of LIFE Magazine—where I worked at the time—marveling at the image of a giant sea creature that was featured within its pages. Only now do I fully understand how much the peace—the glorious end to the troubles—had mattered to him.

My dress on the day of the closing was argyle and matched the colors of the season with its golden yellow and pumpkin orange diamond design. I remember stopping to buy an additional layer—a grey sweater—the weekend we drove up from New York City to contemplate a move one last time. There was a chill in the air that had a way of working itself right into your bones. It was familiar and met the hover of fog and dense sea air in the perfect dance of climate and mood.

Keys in hand we drove to our new home, the route winding and long. We didn’t yet anticipate every steep hill and sharp turn, we didn’t yet know intimately the trees, the places where friends lived, the spots where cell service could be lost or found.

I had lived out a pattern of moving—either across the country or across town—every seven years for much of my life and this move fell precisely into the timing of yet another shift. Still, on that seemingly long drive from the nearest town onto the peninsula where our house sits perched on a tidal cove, I wondered whether we had made a decision that would nourish the tender nature of my soul.

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“O Joy! that in our embers is something that doth live.” —William Wordsworth

Driven from the woods by a well-meaning park ranger warning of the brown tail moths shedding their meddlesome hairs along the coast of Maine this season, I find myself now at a picnic bench in a farm field.

I’m looking out at a fenced pasture, peppered with yellow flowers—buttercups, I think—contained, yet empty except for a light blue tractor in the distance making its way back and forth across the landscape in some seasonal chore. The Casco Bay stretches out behind me just beyond a thick row of trees so that I cannot view this favorite, rocky spot where I sometimes come with my boys to skip rocks and take them in as they test their courage and agility.

The air is warm and thick—welcoming to the black flies that bother my face every now and then. The birds are deep in boisterous conversation and suddenly they quiet all at once as if in acknowledgement of some other presence listening on. One particular bird—a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I think—has the most to say and sounds almost robotic in his delivery. I could sit all day trying to decipher their messages, the individual meaning of these numinous sounds in my midst.

A few weeks back my friend was grieving. A group gathered at her home. It was a day most unlike this one. It was quite cool and drizzling rain. Maine can be so changing like that—most places can be. When I arrived, there was a small bonfire being tended out back. There was plentiful food in the kitchen, people speaking in lower tones than they normally would in our friend’s home. I spent some time inside and then gradually found my way out to the blazing fire.

The yard sits on the cusp of a wooded area surrounded by sprawling trees—some are alive and thriving—mostly Pines. Others are long dead and remain like towering sculptures—like art—stretching up into the sky. There was a pile of twigs and branches, bark and weathered logs just beyond the edge of the yard being drawn from and placed onto the bonfire keeping it going and the heavy moisture in the air at bay.

I joined in readily, finding my place in tending to the heat—the heart— of this place that remains within each of us even in our suffering. With each piece of wood that I added, each ember I stoked, I began tending to the spirit of my friend and to her home and family. Some of the children were barefooted despite the cool temperatures. I took in the nature of their soiled feet, the freedom they had in this company to just be. Many of them had found a stick to do their very own tending and roasting, unaware of the matter at hand.

The rain came down more strongly at times and then dissipated again, resting in a mist. I wasn’t particularly well-clothed for the conditions but I felt very, very warm and at peace. I had a hood, but kept it down, wanting to feel the dampness on my hair and face. It felt just right to be there keeping the fire going. I could have stood there well into the night.

A few years ago, my husband decided to have a large, old stump ground out of our yard. He made the arrangements without my knowing. He had no idea how much I loved that old stump! I mourned its departure, my heart sinking when I looked at the empty space where it had been. To me, it had been breathing. It had been a memory of something from long ago. It was just beautiful.

My husband was so sorry when he realized. A large circle of sawdust remained in our yard where it had been, never filling in with grass—as if in protest, the tree still grasping to be a part of this life.

A few days after the gathering at my friend’s home, and on the last day of school for my children, I began lining the circle of dust where the stump had been with rocks, creating an impromptu fire pit suited for the blustery day. I felt a little anxious about starting a fire with the gusts that were coming across the shoreline and through our yard.

Jonah and Adrian were deep in play out front. Occasionally they would run in their bare feet into the back checking in on me and noting my progress. When I was finally ready to start the fire, I asked Jonah what he thought—whether he thought it was safe to light a fire in the wind. He is still so young—only, seven—and yet, I trust his instincts about so many things. He thought it would be ok and so did I, ultimately, so I set forth in creating a tiny, slowly burning blaze and tending to it so that it was just big enough so we could roast marshmallows.

I ended up sitting by that simmering fire for hours and hours, gazing at the orange and crimson embers. At times it would get a little scary with the wind kicking up. I would pile a few small logs on to keep the ashes down.

I sat and I contemplated the tending of my own inner fire, of my own heart and all that I hold within me as sacred. There are so many dreams, so many sorrows, so much joy and love resting right in there in the center of me to be kept tenderly in a steady glow.

Strangely—or not strangely at all—it has begun raining here in this field as I have been writing and I have moved into the back of my car with only the hatchback covering me. The climate of my life—of all of our lives—is always changing. Whatever the weather, I plan to keep tending, to keep nourishing that which is golden and glowing within me. I plan to keep stoking the fire so that I might always stay good and warm.

 

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“I used to think maybe you loved me now baby I’m sure.” —Katrina & The Waves

It is an unseasonably warm day on the coast of Maine. The sun is bearing down like a heat lamp warming the mudflats and our bones to the core as if in an act of contrition for these long months of awaiting her arrival. The air vibrates with the subtle sound of creatures humming in unison—their chirps, bleeps and whistles coming together like the universal sound of Om that goes on beneath the buzz of daily living. And then the subtlety of the undertone is broken—an expansive gust of wind passing through and bringing forth the textured scent of salty sea air that can only be brewed in these parts. I am sitting within these rhythms and noticing as my own work shifts away from the yang energy of the studio creation that has had me in her grasp these last months into this place of greater stillness and reflection.

Today is the first day of a new year. The numbers that make up my age seem backward—two high for my young heart. I have been thinking about what it means to celebrate being a human and what it means to be celebrated. I have been thinking about how I might strip away the many needs and notions that are piled upon us—upon me—in this tightly constructed world and discover what is truly essential, what will matter in the end—those things that invoke meaning and connection and joy. I recently had a conversation with a little girl—a soon to be six year old—about her own coming birthday. She is a Gemini Twin like me—wide eyed and gentle. She frequently asks her mother to stop into churches so that she may look around—she just feels drawn there. She looked at me and she said with a deep seriousness and wonder in her eyes, “do you know that your birthday is the day that you were boooorn?” She drew out the word born long and with the awe and gravity this more valuable notion deserves.

Just a few days ago my toes felt like they were frozen solid and my feet—prematurely donning sandals—were heavy like clubs in the cold as I ran the bases after a minor league baseball game. I had gone down to the field with a group of children while some friends had stayed up at the top of the stadium where we had been invited to be in a friend’s box seats for the day. The stadium had mostly cleared out but we were returning to the box to gather our things. Some of the children—including my son Jonah and that same little Gemini girl—decided to take the upper deck approach to our box while I ran along the bottom deck in a parallel trajectory. Across the stadium, music was booming—loud and clear. It seemed that there were only the three of us there in the stadium. The three of us and the music. Jonah—so agile and self-assured—especially in his physicality, ran from step to step to step, up and up and up into the stadium he ran with such confidence, his friend behind him like a butterfly—light and free. “I’m walking on sunshine, woah oh!” the words to the song sang out— like a soundtrack to their running, expanding my heart and my mind with each verse. They were zigging and zagging now, “and don’t it feel good!” They were running and they were living and I was taking them in and I was celebrating their being so very alive as the words of the song penetrated my heart and soaked me in gratitude for being a witness to this miracle of their existence—just being them. Alive. On this earth. Just living. “I feel the love, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real.”

“Courage is a kind of salvation.”
—Plato

I was around 20 years old when I decided to jump out of an airplane for the first time. It was a static-line jump in which I climbed out of a rickety, old, seemingly taped-together airplane on a sweaty summer day. We were around 5,000 feet up when the door was opened—wind gushing in, loud and powerful in its pressure against our forward movement. I knew enough from our meager four or five hour training not to hesitate too long and was one of the first to climb out of the plane. Bracing my hands on the strut of the wing, I climbed forward and then hung there with my legs dangling out behind me. Counting down and out loud from three—fighting the deafening wind—I let go—my arms stretched out behind me in a “V” so as not to become intertwined with the line that I was attached to. With this type of jump there is almost no free-fall and you are entirely on your own. The line of the chute is pulled by its attachment to the plane within a few moments. I was trembling before and during the climb out of the plane—my heart beating wildly. Very afraid, I coaxed myself through each step, though outwardly I might have seemed calm.

Once the parachute opened I found myself in another world entirely and suddenly everything was very, very still, tranquil. I was floating across a patchwork movie screen of the world, the fear had vanished—sucked out of me and back up into the plane with the static line as if in a vacuum. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from fear. I was perfectly—wonderfully—free from anything I had ever known. It was so incredibly quiet—a stillness came over me like I had never before experienced. I felt both entirely in myself and outside of myself at the same time. It did not in any way feel as if I were traveling downward through the sky, rapidly falling—although I was. And just as suddenly as I came into the stillness, I came out of it. The ground started to approach—objects becoming larger and larger, my speed seeming faster and faster. In a flash, I was back in my normal reality. I began to consider and then consciously operate the toggles which I had been holding onto—remembering now to guide myself to a particular spot on the landscape. The ground was coming now more quickly than I could have imagined. Suddenly a line was a fence, an abstract shape—a tree. It was time for me to land and I was not prepared. I just nearly missed the fence as it transformed before my eyes into something sturdy and tangible and sharp. I pulled my toggles down with all my might, steering sharply away from the obstacles and finally slowing myself but not in enough time to keep from hitting the ground with a dusty, graceless thud. My legs and feet were beneath me but it was no delicate landing. I was glad to be alive.

I have been listening to the language of fear these last weeks, noting the way in which the world speaks to us in themes through our experiences, through the things that show up as we float—or surge—along the cinema screens of our lives. Fear has shown up in my children at bedtime—their worries about being alone, unheld, unusually strong in these last months. Fear is steeped in the language of our politicians—both very real and exaggerated fears at the root of most platforms and coming across through all range of media. We are discussing the soothing of fears in the place that I go for spiritual nourishment—a welcome break from the usual focus on the fear itself. And as I take on new challenges in my own life—fears—those snarling, spitting beasts—have been lunging for me in their many shifty ways—so much more subtle and nuanced than the threat of a risky jump from a great height.

I have been thinking about how we might navigate fear so that it does not consume us and so that we might continue pursuing the things that we are called to. I’ve been thinking about how we might better notice fear, receive its sometimes worthy message, sidestep it, even, but not submerge it beneath us where it might take root and grow stronger. Naming fear is helpful. Like in meditation—as thoughts come up—we might describe them as something. Thinking, planning, storytelling, we might say to ourselves as thoughts arise—our breath rising and falling as an anchor. In this way we can receive the thoughts and then more readily send them along with less weight. It is as if in recognizing them, we may free them to stop prodding us. We can utilize a similar process when fears come near. I have also found that my fears die down—once acknowledged—when I then turn firmly away and press forward toward the things that I love. In this way, fear can see that there is no space left here in my home.

Despite the calendar turning toward February, the air was springlike this morning here in Maine. I entered my yoga class coatless—the sun warming me. As I’ve been sitting here, the sky has transformed from light blue to pale grey. It has grown darker—overcast, like it might rain. The water has been picking up its pace—moving along more like a river than a bay, icy segments breaking up before me. The tide has traveled inward, first rising beneath the ice, then meandering through it and finally moving the pieces apart completely. Crows dart back and forth from the trees in our yard eventually making their way out along the coastline.

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“You are here. The moon tides are here. And that’s all that matters.” —Sanober Khan

As the Winter Solstice comes more near, I have been thinking about the way in which we on this earth are bound to the sun and to the moon. I have been thinking about the big picture of our lives. I am taken with the push and pull of gravitational force that is necessary to sustain this delicate balance of the earth’s light and liquid and the way in which we are suspended—at an angle—in space just spinning and spinning. Like a sailer immersed in the rise and fall of the tides, I notice my own inner comings and goings. I imagine the rivers of my being engaged in a whimsical dance with my lunar partner—ebbing and flowing and then back again with a twirl. The more vast the scope of inner spaciousness I am able to cultivate, the greater my ability to witness this rhythmic cycle within me. I remember recently standing in front of a mirror. Emotion was coming over me like a cresting wave. I remember looking into my reflection, into my eyes. It seemed I could see all the way to the moon. I remember finally settling within myself and recognizing—this is just a tide. This is just a tide, I thought, as I so slowly and so gratefully made my way back to shore.

A friend recently shared an article  with me about the impact of very gentle micromovements in yogic practice and the potential for this subtle and nuanced work to impact healing. Apparently these very slight and attentive movements allow for the brain to track what is happening and create new neural pathways that support restoration of the places in which the body has gone off-course. I found this to be such a profound metaphor for the ways that healing and transformation have worked in my own life. I have never benefited from seeking gurus or grand interventions to make me well. Instead, I have found a steadiness of spirit in the clearing out of a too-full closet, in shoveling wood chips, in getting up with my children deep in the night when they’ve needed me. I notice that with each small act of creativity, of seeing things through, of working, of waiting, of inner-noticing, of accessing my breath, an inner-musculature has taken form and allowed me to grow more sturdy.

It gets dark at around 4:30 in this season here in Southern Maine— not long after we arrive home from school and just about when I start preparing food for dinner. We’ve turned on the music—as we often do—a few favorite 1960’s classics have me singing along as I begin sautéing our supper. Adrian has fallen deep into puzzle play and Jonah is playing around with a  ball we received as a gift when he was so little still. It looks like a small beach ball but it is actually a balloon blown up within a cloth cover. I catch Jonah’s eye while I am singing, his face lights up with a smile and I come out from behind the stove. We begin playing a game in which we each do our own set of dance moves while holding the ball and then toss the ball back to the other person while sticking our “move.” After doing one fancy turn and tossing him the ball he shouts out, “do you do ballet?” It makes me laugh. And then we are both laughing as we get sillier and sillier trying to hold our poses and the ball and balance all that we are made of as the moon makes its way higher and higher into the vast evening sky.

 

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“We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.” —William Shakespeare


A few years ago I purchased a small, cornflower blue journal with a golden inscription, “One Line A Day – A Five Year Memory Book.” I began making entries just before Jonah turned three when he was ardently discovering the world and slowing my pace so that I might have the pleasure of noticing whiskers on cats right along with him. Adrian was a chubby 8 months old who consumed a diet of avocado and raspberries with abandon—remnants often strewn across his kissable cheeks and our dining room floor. In the tiny space given for each day, I wrote brief impressions about the resonant—yet mostly mundane—moments of our lives. I was hopeful that with a meager single-sentence commitment that I would be steadfast in my resolve to take note and remember these precious times. There are multiple mentions of our blue push car which must have clocked 1,000 miles as we trekked to Shore Road in all manner of weather. I began writing my blog in that year and professed my gratitude repeatedly for this new outlet of expression. Oh, and the snow, there are so many descriptions of the beauty of living in a virtual snow-globe. I do not know why I stopped writing so abruptly. I do remember the struggle of keeping track—of missing days and trying to write backward in time. I’ve since thought a lot about memory. I’ve thought about the stories we hold sacred for our children—and for ourselves—so that we might offer them a framework for their lives. I’ve thought about what it is I remember from my own life and the reasons why. Years have since passed. My boys have grown and expanded and transformed before my eyes until they just burst forth from their place as the tiny innocents within our constant care into these gorgeous, autonomous creatures firmly taking up their very own space in the world.

We are at a local, annual pumpkin festival. We’ve been coming here every season for about six years. It’s quite chilly and many of the hundreds of beautifully carved pumpkins lining the grounds are partially green. We’ve had a rocky start to our afternoon with tears over coats being worn and other general manifestations of tiredness. Feathers unruffled now, we stride up to the festivities and take part in “gourd bowling” and a beanbag toss. Soon we run into “Pumpkin Pete.” He is a familiar fellow with his spongey, orange costume and human body hidden from sight. Jonah strides up to him and reaches out to shake his hand. We smile reminding him of how afraid he used to be of this costumed character and he does a little impression of that faraway time. Adrian grabs my hand so that he might fearlessly go more near. Together we take a photograph. Next we notice giant bubbles in the distance—over by where the band will play later. There is a man there who is using an unusual apparatus—likely of his own construction—in order to create enormous bubbles in various forms. He has configured two long poles tied together with a network of thin rope. With the poles he dips the rope down into a soapy solution then raising them back up into the air he swings them about forming these magical—and enormous—otherworldly creations. Jonah and Adrian at first stand mesmerized. Then they go jumping about with the other children in an attempt to reach these floating, light-filled orbs. Occasionally a taller child manages to catch the edge of a bubble and the soapy liquid comes splashing down on the crowd. This happens just above Adrian. I use my gloved hands to wipe suds from his hat, from his long eyelashes. The sounds of 1980’s popular music fill the air, children are laughing and jumping all around, the bubble man looks on grimly as he works to keep his magic bulbs appearing with so many bouncy children in his midst. I find my eyes fixed on one very large, lone bubble as it travels above the crowd and begins floating further and further away, rotating and expanding and changing shapes as it goes.

 

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“What you are will show in what you do.” —Thomas A. Edison

A few years ago my now six year old son Jonah became interested in having a special container where he could keep his treasures in a private and secure place. He wanted something with a lock. We happened to have a small, unused lock-box that I offered to him. I strive to say “yes” when I can. I love to see my children manifesting their desires if I sense that it will be beneficial. Jonah came to call this box his “kit.” He keeps it remarkably unhidden on a toy chest in his playroom. I must overt my eyes, though, when he reaches for his hidden key. Adrian—his adoring little brother—may look on, for he is “a kid.” Jonah has utilized various key chains over the years to keep track of his key. My favorite was a multi-colored disco ball that he had picked out for me at an airport gift shop. I was happy to see it go to good use. I believe it has since broken and been discarded, replaced with a little scrap of yarn. For a while, Jonah’s kit was mostly filled with various gifts of the earth—stones and shells and such. In the last few months, he has become increasingly aware of the value of money and he has taken to setting up shops where he might earn a few dollars. His kit is filled with his earnings, plus some bills from a small—and oft forgotten—allowance and gifts from family. My favorite of his shops was his whittling mill that he set up in our living room on a small side table. In mid-summer he discovered that a kitchen, vegetable peeler acted as a fine tool for the shaping of sticks. This work proved to be a good place for his bountiful energy with so much of it going into the smoothing out the rough edges of the plentiful branches in our yard.

The abundance of acorns peppering our lawn this season makes walking around barefooted on these lingering, temperate days rough on the feet. I find myself taking a step, then a hop, a step, then stopping to pull a small acorn away from the arch of my foot. It is said that increased fruit production in nature portends heavier winters. Like squirrels in preparation for snows arrival, we’ve begun collecting these nutty gems once again just as our Acorn Tree Art prepares for shipment to the Maine Audubon for display. I’m taken with the way we arrive at that which is ours to do in this life. Collecting buckets and jars filled with acorns in the fall and saving them for art—I’m certain—is not for everyone. It is what we do, though. On one of our warmer days recently, I found myself engrossed in this process of moving along the steps of our back porch on hands and knees collecting these powerful seeds and their anthropomorphic little hats. I have a special affinity for the deep, chestnutty brown ones. Adrian—my littler boy—likes the still-green ones and tells me so when he comes near me in my work. We sit together closely for a few moments on the steps. I ask him if he knows that he has acorn eyes—such a beautiful mix of chestnut and green. He just smiles a knowing smile.

Soon he moves along to the work he has created for himself of digging in the dirt, of climbing and calling out for me to watch. Looking back down to a sunny spot on the ground filled with handfuls of acorns from which I might choose, a profound sense of calm washes over me, settling all of my inner-clutter into its right place. Faith shows up in this way—unannounced and without warning—a welcomed elixir brimming with healing thoughts and mending songs. There you are collecting acorns in your yard, on the couch—your sleepy child’s head in your lap. In she walks dripping with asylum, each droplet a new miracle to behold.

 

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